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Last Updated on June 27, 2018

Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

The demands on our time are greater now than ever before. With information coming at us faster than we can digest it, responsibilities handed to us faster than we can handle them and communication moving at breakneck speed, finding ways to fit as much as possible into your day is a daunting task to say the least. But there is a way to get more done of what you want and need with less distraction, and it’s a strategy that you likely employ for some things already.

You have to schedule stuff. Not just the appointment-specific stuff, but all of the stuff that matters. You can do that by scheduling time blocks.

The one great equalizer that all of humanity has is time. No one has twenty-five hours in their day; we all have twenty-four. How we choose to use those hours is what separates us. By scheduling the stuff that matters (from the urgent to the crucial), you’ll be spending those hours far more wisely. In addition, you’ll be living your days proactively rather than reactively.

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As a writer, I have always made time for writing – specific time, in fact. I have blocked out entire days to do most of what I write and on other days I’ve set aside an hour or tow of uninterrupted time to do the same. But I have found that setting aside blocks of time for writing isn’t enough. I need to set aside time for specific types of writing. There’s blocks of time for my work here at Lifehack, there’s blocks of time for my fiction writing, there’s blocks of time for my personal writing and there’s blocks of time for when I am working on my book project. That’s what I have to do to ensure that I get all of my writing done during the week, and it keeps me focused on the area I’m supposed to be writing on rather than the very broad category of simply “writing” that I’ve used in the past. Narrowing the category down to the specifics has boosted my productivity by keeping me on track and allowing me to fulfill all of my writing needs.

Scheduling: It Isn’t Just For Work Anymore

Oh, and scheduling blocks of time doesn’t just have to involve work-related stuff. I was having coffee with a friend this week and he told me that he blocks out every week a set amount of time to have coffee with me. That’s brilliant. It creates a standing appointment for him that he knows is coming, and it’s something he enjoys doing and doesn’t want to let it slide. During our coffee visits we’re able to disconnect from our devices, have stimulating conversations that stay with us well past our time together and enjoy a quality cup of coffee as well. There weekly get-togethers are something I look forward to every week. Their value lies in the company I’m keeping and the time it gives me to recharge my batteries and replenish my creative juices. So I’m scheduling them as well. They are as crucial to me as my writing, so they can’t afford to be missed.

I have also started to block out time for reading, which is crucial to me as a writer who wants to get better at his craft. There’s an excellent post by Randy Murray on why scheduling reading time can be really beneficial.

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Other areas I’ve started to block out times of my day for include:

Homework time with my daughter/Bedtime preparation with my son. My wife and I trade off on this, where she’ll help her out and I’ll get my son off to bed. Either way, that time is sacred and can’t be moved around. Children need to know that their parents are there to help nurture their minds and spirit and they need to learn routines. This time with them offers both.

Date night with my wife. Even if it’s at home watching a movie or reading together quietly, it’s something that promotes a healthy relationship. While it can be moved around, it is something that we’re trying to lock down. It’s a work in progress – much like a marriage.

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Sporting events on television. I do my best to watch every Cincinnati Bengals football game that I can — as painful as that can be. It’s a Sunday ritual that I truly enjoy, so much so that my family knows that when I put on my jersey that it’s time for the game. It’s easier to stick to these days because I’m able to watch most games in the morning on the west coast, and it’s also easier to stick to since I’m a Bengals fan and they rarely play more than 16 times per year.

How to Lock Down Time Blocks

1. Blocked times should scream out at you when you look at your day planner, online calendar or task management solution. Create an online calendar with a title that does this, use a vibrant colour (perhaps your favourite one) and put all of the stuff that you’re blocking out time for in that calendar. If you use paper, use a different colour pen or write in capital letters to make it stand out among your other items. In a task manager, label or flag it somehow with tags or a similar method that highlights it for you. In order for things to not be missed (especially when you first start doing them), you need to make sure that your eyes don’t miss them.

2. Share these times with those who need to know. My wife subscribes to my Google Calendar so that she can see when I’m absolutely indisposed. She knows when I’m busy in an area that’s been blocked out and doesn’t even try to reach me during those times – or try to shift me away from them in any form. Same with other colleagues that I am working with. Whatever pertains to them, I make sure I let them know. If you don’t use an online calendar, simply draft up a standard email that tells people when you’re either available or when you’re not available. I like to use the former because it’s always better to show them when you can be reached rather than when you can’t.

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3. Stick to the blocked times for 30 instances. In order to make this a habit, you need time to let it stick. Repeat the blocked time for 30 instances if you use a digital calendaring solution and make sure you jot them down the same amount of times if you’re using a good old-fashioned paper system. Not only will the blocked times become part of the flow of your week, but you’ll actually discover how crucial these items your blocking out time for are. You’ll also be able to figure out how much time you really need, whether or not that time or day works for you and much more. Consider this an experiment…and you’re the guinea pig.

I don’t use my task management solution to schedule things; that’s what calendar apps are for. I always look at my calendar when I start my day to see what blocks of time are already mapped out for me. That proactive approach keeps me on task – and on target to get all of the stuff that matters to me done each and every day.

Block out time for that stuff and you’ll block out all the distractions that can keep you from getting that stuff done. It’s time well spent – both now and in the future.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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Mike Vardy

A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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